I descended a few feet and then reached to tighten the waist strap of the Axis. A gentle pull and the two-sided buckle was snug against my compressed wetsuit. I reached for the shoulder buckles and repeated the procedure. Just that fast, I was totally secure. Leveling off, I cruised across the bottom in a slightly head-up horizontal position, feeling stable and absolutely in control.
Similar to many BCs, the Axis is a back-inflation design with weight-integrated pockets that ride just above the hips. Where the Axis shines is in its combination of a sewn-in backpack, which provides great tank stability, and a thermo-molded comfort pad that's finished with a plush lining. The whole BC naturally wraps itself around the diver's back. And while it's comfortably flexible, it gives a reassuring sensation similar to sliding into the embrace of a sports car's high-sided bucket seat.
During the dive, I swam in various positions and with the bladder at different levels of inflation. The air cell inflates behind (as opposed to around) the diver, so there's no perceived squeeze against the torso. The air cell positioning seems to help the diver naturally slide into a horizontal position for swimming, though I didn't have any trouble later when hanging vertically for a safety stop either. Rolling from side to side was easy as well, although there was a noticeable shift of air from one side of the air cell to the other, which had the effect of helping me along in the rotation. This is pretty typical of larger bladder BCs. My test model was the XL, with a healthy lift capacity of 42 pounds, and I'm told this sensation isn't as noticeable in the smaller sizes.
I really like Sherwood's CQR 2 weight-release system. Two contoured pockets (each holding 10 pounds) are up front and easily accessible during the dive. The pockets have simple, easy-to-grip plastic handles attached to tension clips inside the weight-pocket sleeve. A solid tug instantly releases the weight pouch. I ditched the weights with ease while swimming in the shallows and, surprisingly, was able just as easily to reinsert them and resecure the clips. The latter isn't typically necessary in a real-world diving scenario, but it's nice to know it can be done if adjustments need to be made.
The Axis has plenty of storage, although it keeps a pretty slim profile. Six stainless-steel D-rings are readily at hand on the shoulders and on the lower parts of the harness. A zippered pocket over the left weight pouch is big enough for a backup light or emergency strobe. A similar zipper over the right weight pouch unleashes a larger fold-out utility pocket and is designed to hold an Akona safety tube or a folding snorkel. For buoyancy adjustments the Axis has an exhaust valve on the right shoulder and one on the lower right of the air cell. The combination power/oral inflator also has a trim valve at the shoulder.
At the end of the dive, I came to the surface and hit the inflator for full buoyancy. Rolling on my back, I leaned backward and was lifted well out of the water. Kicking toward shore was easy and I had a perfect view of a deep blue sky.
Sherwood Axis BC
Impressions The Axis has a streamlined harness that's easy to get into and a backpack design that provides above-average stability. It's a perfect BC for divers looking for freedom of movement up front along with enough lift capacity for cold-water diving. Features 3-D back inflation air cell, neoprene comfort neckline, easy-to-operate CQR 2 weight system, full-length sewn-in backpack and front closure with depth-compensating feature.